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APRIL

SHROUDS:
NOTES ON
ROMANTICISM
Adam Fieled

Why someone might be drawn to Percy Bysshe Shelleys Adonais in a


major recession is no mystery an elegy on the death of his
contemporary John Keats, it explores one poets struggle with mortality,
what constitutes life and death as a chiasmus, and metaphysics among
the human race in general. Some quirks of Adonais that make it even
more simpatico with macabre 2015 as has not been widely noted in
Romantics scholarly criticism, Adonais, as a long poem, evinces
consonance with both visionary spiritualism and horror-movie level
luridness, down to the convulsions of Keats corpse as female
splendors engage in necrophilia-related antics with it. That, in fact,
most of the poem represents, textually, a procession past Keats corpse,
with different characters issuing speeches over it, and with the corpse
itself always visible, has a subtext which suggests a temperament rather
morbid in relation to physical mortality, and uneasy with processes of
change, time, and mutation of matter into other matter.
However, a few constituent elements redeem the poem past mere
adolescent morbidity. Shelleys suggested system of metaphysics is a
quirky one that life, being bound to time and change, stands
opposed to eternity, or a kind of eternal fire (or burning fountain),
where all worthwhile matter returns. What Shelley calls splendors
not exactly apparitions or ghosts, but pieces of the eternal fire which
girds up the statelier half of visible reality, and which may take, like
Urania (Venus) and her sisters, semi-human form are what animate
(he suggests) a consciousness such as his or John Keats. Meanwhile,
most of the human race, to Shelley, seems to be constituted by
phantoms, invulnerable nothings, vultures, ravens, wolves, and
other vicious predators. About humanity, Shelley is a realist-borderingon-misanthrope here, and what Adonais demonstrates is that the
idealism Shelley is often given credit for is balanced by a firmer, harder
grasp of human frailty and foible then Shelleys often featherweight
Romantic image suggests. In fact, if I declare Adonais to be Shelleys
masterpiece, the most lucid, cohesive, ideologically and intellectually
sound of his major poems, it is because (for one thing) it inverts
adolescent escapism (to an extent) into a very adult realization of just
how vicious, scabrous, and mortifying human life and death is, in a
world where invulnerable nothings are allowed to hold sway over the
likes of Keats and Shelley, and unwilling dross resists splendor.

Another determinative factor in (ironically, and against Romanticisms


century XX master narrative) gauging that the Shelley who
writes Adonais is a mature, if perverse, adult, is his conception of
variegated nature, halved between benignity and the ghastly, scarred,
riven component parts he identifies in Mont Blanc and revisits here. It
is a realistic counterpoint to what in Wordsworth verges on fantasy the
poet (Wordsworth) stands atop Snowdon, surveys the perfect image of a
mighty mind, and leaves it at that, while Shelley balances the perfection
of the natural world with what in it is misshapen, ugly, and impotent.
Why Wordsworths single-mindedness must fail in relation to Shelleys
sense of variegation, especially in 2015, is that it becomes too clear to
practiced human consciousness that the mightiness of natures own
consciousness cannot account for the devilish duplicity and capacity for
self-mutilation of the human race. The twentieth century, which would
dare place William Blake with Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth, inverted
Shelley into an idealistic humanist, which he intermittently was; but his
most penetrating writing offers insights in a deeper, darker, miasmic
wilderness space in which Shelleys own brain, in mirroring halved
nature, see-saws between his own creative and destructive capacities.
Indeed, one of the ambiguities which Shelley successfully builds into
Adonais is his own innocence and/or culpability in regards to Man and
Nature. Is he, as he suggests in the self-portraiture segment, half Cain,
half Christ? Why is his brow ensanguined, suggesting that he is,
himself, a kind of slave to forces which oppress him? As he also employs
the metaphor of a deer fleeing from naked Diana, mistress of the hunt,
what thoughts is he having which so torment him? Furthermore, all that
the nameless worm is, Keats assailant, rings with ambiguities as to
whether, in a subterranean way, Shelley identifies more with him, his
remorse and self-contempt, then he does with flower-like, angelic Keats?
To use a popular culture metaphor, Shelley appears to be a protagonist
with hell-hounds on his trail. Shelleys biography is, indeed, riddled with
ambiguities, and it is not for nothing that the Second Gen. Romantics
(Keats, Shelley, Byron) are often referred to as the Satanic School. Yet
ambiguities make for better art (literary or otherwise) then simplicity,
and what is tepid in Wordsworth and Coleridge becomes pungent in
Shelley and Keats. It also stands to reason that, when Venus herself
mounts Keats corpse and must be held back by Death, we have the
seeds here of Gothic awareness which elevate Adonais out of wonted
elegiac territory and make it memorable past these generic constraints.
Twentieth century Romantic criticism is short on these insights, into

narrative-thematic levels, and long on generalizations and tap-dancing


around key issues. But erecting a twenty-first century Keats and Shelley,
from awareness not just formal but imaginative, and colored by the lurid
constraint of global loss and recession, seems like a potential imperative
worth following through, necrophilia and all.

Twentieth century master narratives around British Romanticism, I


predict, may come to look stifled and jejune in the twenty-first century.
One of the (if less cherished) myths around this body of work is that
Keats' minor sonnets, all written in the nineteenth century Teens,
express sentiments without undue irony, and with an inhering spirit of
earnestness and naive appreciation of Keats' young life, of literature, and
of the social circle around the three Keats brothers. Keats, we were told
in century XX, was not being coy when he wrote this (for instance) about
painter Benjamin Robert Haydon:
Highmindedness, a jealousy for good,
A loving-kindness for the great man's fame,
Dwells here and there with people of no name,
In noisome alley, and in pathless wood:
And where we think the truth least understood,
Oft may be found a "singleness of aim,"
That ought to frighten into hooded shame
A money-mong'ring, pitiable brood.
How glorious this affection for the cause
Of steadfast genius, toiling gallantly!
What when a stout unbending champion awes
Envy, and Malice to their native sty?
Unnumbered souls breathe out a still applause,
Proud to behold him in his country's eye.
That Benjamin Robert Haydon was by no means a Byron-level celebrity,
in collusion with the fact that Haydon's paintings are seen as reasonable
if not spectacular successes, leads me to an inescapable conclusion:
Keats is "taking the piss" here, deflating both Haydon's ego and the
idea that Haydon imagines himself to have a rabid following among the
general public. He most assuredly did not, and Keats, being no naif and
demonstrating the arch streak which often shows up in his minor (and
major, as in Melancholy) writing, enjoys the game of showing us this

facet of who Haydon is. Since motifs and games like this recur endlessly
in the early sonnets, it is easy for me to imagine that they are dotted with
ironic subtexts, and that twentieth century Romantic criticism was
abased, as was most twentieth century literary criticism, by a willingness
to stay on the surface, and read the surface as adequate in/of itself.

The quirk which inheres in John Keats' prosody- that it is a kind of


representation or enactment of ecstatic states of consciousness, or
euphoria- is balanced, in some of the Odes,
especially Nightingale and Grecian Urn, by the appearance, within the
consciousness of the protagonist, of the second meaning of "ecstasy" in
the nineteenth century or back- the circumstance by which a person
transcends their own skin, into dementia or madness, past the
limitations of the physical. That's why the magnificence of Keats'
prosody, its euphoric "ecstasy," can work for or against the narrativethematic gist of what is being imparted, especially when the other,
foreboding side of "ecstasy" is being investigated. Here, the prosodic
heft of Keats' language has a phallic quality of triumphant euphoria:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
But in Nightingale, the two strains of ecstasy chafe against each other in
such a way that "ecstasy" and its doppelganger are at loggerheads. Why
this is interesting is that once Keats' prosodic superiority to the entire
English-language canon is established, we may start to look at his music
and how it functions within itself, both in relation to narrative-thematic
elements and in relation to the structural semantic and syntactic
elements which configure it as a self-sufficient linguistic system.

The better part of two centuries has gone by: has anyone dared to do a
substantial critical chiasmus between English Romanticism and French
Neo-Classicism? The vision (for instance) of Ingres's Odalisque with

Keats' odal Psyche- for me, it has to do with euphoria generated from the
apotheosis of aesthetic formality or (if you will) formalism- the most
perfect possible artistic forms (Keats' prosody, Ingres's color harmonies
and uniquely postured Muse), which innovate and conserve so
seamlessly (Greece to England, Greece to France) that what is ecstatic or
euphoric in the consciousness of the viewer or reader is the realization of
possibilities of "universe structures." That intended effect of aesthetic
beauty, of form, lost/corroded in the twentieth century via the perceived
desirability of aesthetic hovels (irony precluding euphoria), is shared by
the erotics of Keats/Ingres in such a way that, as they reach backwards
to the classical and forwards to us, we may understand why the twentieth
century lost its sense of possible ecstasy/euphoria in its myopic
insistence on "singular time."

Poets have a choice: to keep their poems and books circumscribed by


the limits of humanity and the charmed circle of the human, or to
include what Keats and the other major Romantics sought to include in
their poetry, what I call the resonant world, the shuddering world. The
resonant world textual model seeks to include the idea that living
energies which surround humanity, but are not strictly human, energies
which inhabit forests, skies, mountains, trees, bodies of water, and the
like, effect in an interstitial way human consciousness so that the human
brain, and all its byproducts, benefits from exposure to and interaction
with these elements. Human consciousness resonates with, and
shudders in response to, these interactions, which not only stimulate but
consummate the human imagination, as in Shelley's Mont Blanc.
Resonant world and shuddering world energies were not favored in
twentieth century literature. Modernism and (even more extremely) postmodernism made a point of emphasizing the deadness, superficiality,
and illusory nature of resonant world or shuddering world textual
connections. By remaining within humanity's charmed circle and
ascribing adolescent immaturity to any attempted chiasmus, made in an
emotionally earnest way, with nature, Modernism and its own
byproducts shut down Romanticism's enterprise most self-consciously,
and with an attempt to make this shut-down permanent. If I want to reopen the issue in 2015, it is because the question of human susceptibility
to energy sources past the merely human is both too stimulating and too

fascinating to let go of permanently, as the Modern and post-modern


cognescenti so hoped.

When John Keats hits these notes in this order in the fourth stanza
of Nightingale:
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards...
I have the feeling that, as an incisive point to make against his selfdiagnosis, his cognitive functioning has actually reached a rather
peerless apogee. This is not just on prosodic levels, but with the
realization that the most solid path to a euphoric state of consciousness
is the pursuit of a certain manner/form of textuality itself. This
contradiction- the sunken brain really manifesting the elevated or
"apogee" one- is something which comes up (sideways) in Apparition
Poem 1613, one subtext of which delineates the process by which
spiritual elevation is attained through surmounting a hill "constituted by
kinds of knives." A tangent metaphysics point to 1613 is that when one is
climbing this knife-hill, one may feel themselves falling backward even
during their ascension, so that even upwardly mobile movements seem
to invert themselves. This cognitive confusion- ascendant consciousness
feeling itself (falsely) to be descending, through the sharpness and
bizarre configuration of the kinds of knives complicating cognitive
movements- is where Keats is at in this fourth stanza. The "dull brain" is
the razor-sharp one; what's perplexed and retarded is that this sharpened
brain is blinded to its own ascension by the cognitive dissonance of
extreme psycho-spiritual anguish, which mystifies consciousness into
confusion, irresolution, and self-abnegation, even as Keats unknowingly
creates the ideal stage for his prosodic effects.

Keats clearly meant the Odes to be a rite of passage for his readers; a
marriage or consummation of some sort. Because Keats makes a fetish
of Eros and Psyche, and the sense Psyche has of being (before Eros) a
virgin or ingenue, one subtext I derive from the odal experience is that

Keats' prosodic genius is meant to "deflower" the consciousness of his


readers, de-virginize it into a more suitably experienced-in-aestheticeuphoria form. As with Shelley and Adonais, the perceived androgyny of
the Odal scribe, the admixture of male and female elements which have
sharpened and refined his Odal vision into cohesive form, are to be met
by the androgyny of his readers, who can both withstand his linguistic
thrusts and propel themselves into line with the masculine levels of the
melopoeia built into the Odal edifices. The sense of cognitive
ravishment works in a chiasmic way here- from us into the prosody, and
from the momentary, serendipitous nature of Keats' lyrical genius back
to us, as the loops back and forth endlessly replay every time we
participate in an inspired reading of the Odes. We become ingenues or
Psyches before this mode/manner of formal beauty, and we do so
willingly, rewarded in a different way each time so as to suggest a kind of
textual eternity channeled through Keats into texts which combine
human and celestial essences against the confines of the material, and in
a manner more companionable than Shelley tends to be.

Harmony and integrity between the body and the soul: that is the
Grecian ideal. I mean the Greece of Plato, Aristotle, and the like. What
John Keats taps into in his odal cycle is a desire to re-invigorate this ideal
with a new series of assignations and associations. What his
Muse, Psyche, is supposed to engender, both in his own psyche as he
writes and in his assumed audience, is a sense of complete, allabsorptive arousal- cognitive and physical arousal at the same time. The
ideas which animate Psyche as a presence for Keats- innocence,
virginity, purity, piety-in-Nature and Natural processes/forces, are
arousing for a brain looking to recreate these ideas as a basis for
cognitive satisfaction/euphoria; while Psyche, being physically
attractive, is also straightforwardly sexually arousing to him and his
audience, in the odal manner of being passionate, spontaneous, or (to be
a little flippant) "mad for it." Where this created integrity between body
and soul leads, in its ideal form, is into the achievement (as I have said)
of an apotheosis of artistic form- Keats' prosody.
Why "apotheosis" aesthetic forms are important to bring back, as
manifestations of Grecian or Romantic ideals of harmony between body
and soul, is very simple- to restore the natural, healthy vigor of pursuing
stimulation and satisfaction in major high art consonant art. The

perversion and denigration which was foisted on high art in the


twentieth century made clear that "pleasure" was no longer to be drawn
from its products, just as it is ludicrous to think that a walk through
MOMA could "please" anyone profoundly or in an indigenous way. The
likes of John Ashbery and Barnett Newman are not there to "please"
anyone, and whatever subterranean force placed them in an elevated
position did not have in mind (it seems to me) any ideals at all. Being
pleased by high art, and seeking to unify the body and soul, or, as a
slight tangent, inside the mind and outside the mind, are good ideas,
and when a formal apotheosis is attained by an artist, it is also a decent
idea to derive as much physical or cognitive ecstasy from it as you
possibly can. High art is supposed to be fun too- demanding fun,
rigorous fun, cognitively engaged fun, but fun nonetheless. The
companionable quality of the Odes are fun, indeed- and that we have
bodies and souls which, if drawn into the right alignment, give us access
to higher frequencies of thought and feeling, are one subtext of the Odes
which throws out the baby with the bath-water if unacknowledged.

Is the music enough? If the point of John Keats' Odal Cycle is to lead the
reader back to the vista that the prosody's the thing, can we accept, as
we would accept in Bach or Beethoven, that the rich formality of the
Odes is its own aesthetic justification and reward? If I can, it is because
(as I said) what we accept in Bach and Beethoven we should be able to
accept (also) in Keats. What I want to discuss here is that, in Grecian
Urn, Keats' stages a demonstration of melopoeia, poetic music, for its
own sake, in stanza three, and the achieved "mad for it" effect is clearly
meant to be euphoric ecstasy:
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

"You and I are gonna live forever," indeed. To me, stanza three stands
as self-conscious mimesis of pagan or tribal spirit, which is angled (as is
suggested later in the poem) against cognition and towards the passion
and the rapture of purgative, self-expressive celebration (whether in a
creative context, as with those who created the urn itself, or not).
Ultimately, whether magnificent prosody alone can justify the Odes is an
important question, specifically because how you answer is an accurate
barometer of how well you do or do not relate to forms and pure
formality in major high art consonant art. If form and formal rigor were
benched, as from a ball-game, in the twentieth century, it is for a reason
few suspect- superior formality in art is just as threatening and
dangerous as narrative-thematic levels, both to the unenlightened and to
conglomerate groups who would like to subject art to its dictates. It is an
expression of extreme and supreme individuality, and as such
encourages individuals who are moved by it to attempt to find an
individual voice for themselves. This, the twentieth century could not
abide. If a significant number of individuals go "mad for it" in the
twenty-first, once again the human race, at least in some sectors, can
come to terms with the vagaries of individuals who bother to do things
for themselves.

It is natural that the burgeoning twenty-first century have some


questions for the remnants of the twentieth. To re-interrogate
Deconstructionism, its aims and ethos: would it be transgressive to
inquire whether certain Deconstructionist formulations employ roughly
the same imperative spread-sheet employed by post-modernists and
post-modernism? If Deconstructionism and post-modernism do share a
number of imperatives, will that create a conception of
Deconstructionism acceptable to us in the humanities now? These
questions would not arise in my consciousness unless I harbored
suspicions that The Death Of The Author, the dissolution of the
constitutive subject, and there is nothing outside the text might have
been meant perhaps more literally then some have supposed. As in, the
Deconstructionist game consisted, at least partly, of wiping out the
potentialities of individuals and individual authorship, and obliterating
(as post-modernism did, in destroying both aesthetic formality and
metaphysical inquiry) any sense for the potentialities of being an
individual against conglomerate interests at all. These are dark surmises,
and may end as nothing more, just as looking for depth consonance

beneath the surface of Deconstructionist textuality may or may not find


anything jeweled behind the veneer of crabbed hermeticism which
constitutes most Deconstructionist texts, whether they be games against
metaphysical inquiry or not, and whether Deconstructionism amounts,
at least in part, to a disguised, baroque-seeming enforcement of postmodern rigor against aesthetic formality, metaphysical inquiry, and the
potentialities of the individual against society.
I'm thinking of these things as I continue my own inquiry into values
around aesthetic formality, via examination of Keats' Odal Cycle. Keats
has his own, individual manner of enforcing the form of his forms; how
he makes the Odes preen (and I do not wish to use "preen" pejoratively,
though it may seem so) and pirouette in advertising their own
sumptuous gorgeousness, and every form becomes meta-formal in
advertising itself. The liberation possible in this century, expedited
through myself, Abby, and PFS in general, has so much to do with the
potentialities of individuals, both in alignments and against
conglomerates and conglomerate interests, that I can't help but laugh at
the post-modern illness, which blusters boldly forward, proud never to
seem to be retreating, from New York nothingness into greater New
York nothingness, while poor Abby and I are forced to blaze a trail that,
where formality is concerned, must begin from nineteenth century
models (Keats, Wordsworth, Ingres, David): shame on us!
Metaphysics, formality, individuals! The dark supposition of a secret
alignment between Deconstructionism and post-modernism is just one
vista issuing out of what we have accomplished in the last ten years of
Philadelphia, and it remains just that for me: a supposition. It will take a
few decades for Deconstructionism to demonstrate just how much was
(and is) actually there beneath the surface of its dictates, and for what
grows up around PFS to respond adequately. I will be fascinated to
watch, and witness.

That language, used to create musical effects in poetry, is not arbitrary;


does, in fact, depend on meaningful or artful arrangement to establish
and consolidate its effects; chafes against the confines of
Deconstructionist discourse. The Deconstructionist commonplace,
derived from Saussure- that linguistic signifiers are arbitrary (and this
dictum is usually presented as iron-clad)- does not deal adequately with
either the musical potentialities of language, or how they have already

manifested significantly in the lyrical poems produced both by French


Symbolism and English Romanticism. Deconstructionism is notoriously
soft on dealing with poetry in general- key texts like Roland Barthes The
Pleasures of the Text lean heavily on fiction, as Barthes deals (for
example) with Proust and Robbe-Grillet rather than Baudelaire. Poetry,
especially lyrical poetry, is a direct threat to the sanctioned discourses of
Deconstructionism- as a tactile, manifest testament to not-arbitrary
language (which advertises, in both its intentions and its effects, its own
artfulness and non-arbitrary quality), created by individuals, often to
make metaphysical inquiries, and to induce sensual, visceral cognitive
pleasure and enchantment simultaneously.
Lyrical poetry signifies a set of imperatives or complexes- aesthetic
interests which, when fulfilled, can appear serendipitous without
stumbling into the disarray of the random; and, the more exquisite the
verbal music produced, the less random it seems. The materiality of this
kind of text (be it Keats or Baudelaire) has its own meaning and purpose
indigenous to it; it is self-sustaining and self-justifying, and manifests its
purpose in its own material subsistence. Deconstructionists would, if
they could, disavow lyricism; however, to disavow lyricism is to disavow
all music; to discard Keats and Baudelaire would be to discard Bach and
Beethoven, as well. Music can be justified qua music or qua language.
Roland Barthes leaning heavily on fiction is suspect- both because
fiction reinforces master narratives (of cohesiveness, of reality) of human
life which may be false, and because novelistic language does not have
the hinge to being irreplaceable, singular, individual which
accomplished lyricism does. Unless Deconstructionism in the twentyfirst century can develop a discursive chiasmus with poetry and the
lyrical, there will remain suspicions that the motivations of/for
Deconstructionist discourse are destructive, rather than creative ones;
and that the Deconstructionist elevation of fiction over poetry has in it
the contradiction of willful ignorance of musical language (melopoeia)
which, in both its motivations and its effects, is not arbitrary. It is
another frightening realization of an alignment between
Deconstructionism and post-modernity- an alignment based,
metaphorically speaking, on killing.

Keats' odal celebration of Psyche, deified as a goddess rather than


merely a figure of myth, initiates a dynamic whereby we understand

Keats' conception of the feminine, and of women. Psyche, importantly,


is virginal but not a virgin; if she has retained her original innocence, it is
also tempered by the vagaries of an active amatory life. Keats' also
initiates, from the second generation of Romanticism, a strain of
androgyny in his writing, whereby he can appear wisely passive and
receptive or active and imposing. These two complexes together can
equal, on one level, a simple whole: Keats likes women. He likes
feminine energy, feminine innocence, and the seductive power (power to
charm) which emanates from this energy and innocence put into
dramatic, dynamic motion in art and myth. There is, in his appreciation
of the feminine, nothing particularly perverse or lateral; he represents his
tastes in such a way that the wholesome (or natural or organic) is
emphasized. Even what is Pagan in Keats is nature-worshipping, and
wholesome. The imaginative vistas spun out of this ethos are also
nature-worshipping, and wholesome, as befits a cognitive attachment to
a classical reality deemed "happily pious" in relation to the England
Keats was raised in. Psyche stands in the center of the odal cycle as the
charming, seductive synecdoche of this facet of Keats' sensibility.
Yet, however John Keats chose to live his life among the female of the
species, clearly Percy Bysshe Shelley found Keats disingenuous or
deluded. Adonais takes all this healthy, organic, wholesome energy and
inverts it. As female splendor after splendor (what a splendor is for
Shelley is a kind of earth-spirit or half-ghost) jumps on and molests
Keats' corpse, we also see a kind of reversal in sensibility suggesting
another inversion: Shelley does not like women, and feminine energy, as
much as Keats does. This may be refuted by other sectors of Shelley's
oeuvre, but Shelley was a poet of many moods, and a misogynistic mood
may be one of them. By showing us these "damp deaths," Shelley adds
an implicit critique of Keats' treatment of the Psyche myth in his odal
cycle, and also (maybe, and daringly) opens a window not only on Fanny
Brawne, but on what other kind of women were attracted by Keats
during his lifetime. This is not just a question of the class differential
between Shelley and Keats, which is (admittedly) huge in and of itself- it
is a question of writing a palimpsest over a whole vision of human
reality, an idealistic one, and replacing it with a perverse, materialistic,
yet (also) more painstakingly honest one. If, traditionally, Keats is seen
to be the materialist and Shelley the idealist, it is only because twentieth
century literary criticism evinced its own perversity in molesting corpses
with its splendors, and taking the easy way out, back to an inverted
paradise.


Shelley's conception of nature, as presented in Mont Blanc, hinges on an
essential perceived duality- what is sublime against what is "ghastly,
scarred, and riven." That the Ravine of Arve is referred to as "that, or
thou" is significant- "that," third-person nature, or "it" nature, can be
taken to signify the ghastly, scarred, riven aspect of this "clear universe
of things"; "thou," second-person nature, or "you-nature," can be taken
to signify the natural majestic or sublime, companionable and personal
against "it." Shelley has, at his disposal, models and/or conceptions to
gauge what best represents the Power or "secret strength of things"
which is seen to under-gird both nature and human thought- the mind's
musings on itself (self-reflexive musings), or the equally self-reflexive
pursuit of poetic/creative "ghosts," or a language/linguistic universe.
That Shelley opts for visible, material Nature, in its duality, as the most
workable model or synecdoche of this Power indicates that Shelley's
conclusions seem to follow an imperative drive towards the crowning of
empiricism or materialism over imagination, in a manner that Kant
might approve of. It is the streak of a scientific ethos in an aesthetic
context, and purifies Shelley's conclusions: re-affirmations of duality.
Keats, in comparison, likes things companionable all the way through.
He attempts to impose "thou" status on everything, and to live in, and
write from, a resolutely personal universe. Not just personal; a personal
universe tinged by imagination into an ultra-personal, or hyper-personal
universe. The first line of Grecian Urn, "Thou still unravish'd bride of
quietness..." gives (to some extent) the entire anti-empirical game away.
Oddly enough, Keats' connection to "that," to a third-person situation,
context, or universe, is manifested by the mysteries of his prosodywhere it comes from, its power and secret strength, how it manifests. It
is not, it must be noted, particularly accounted for by Keats himself; he
is, in Romantic terms (apropos here), the conduit or channel for it, and
absolved by this position from the rigors of having to account for its
empirical manifestation (or, as they said in Regency England,
"numbers").

One may learn the important lesson from a recessional time: not to
overestimate the human race. I am, myself, learning not to overestimate

the human race. Also: to consider why the major Romantics chose to
incorporate, both into their literary endeavors and their generalized
consciousness, energies from without the charmed circle of the human
race, rather than within; to forge a workable relationship, worth writing
about, with trees, mountains, rivers, birds, flowers, and the like. One
answer is painful, but simple: the consciousness of a Keats or a Shelley
has more in common, both in its intentions and in its creative capacities,
with what inheres in natural objects (trees, mountains, etc) than with the
average human being, and with average human consciousness. It's a
byproduct of both age, and experience; to understand, on a profound
level, how middling most human consciousness is, how involved in
delusion and duplicity, and then to see how this charmed, or not very
charmed, circle might be broken. If you can access higher realities in a
meaningful way, there would seem to be no reason not to do so. In terms
of a lesson from Romanticism worth learning, that is one, though it may
or may not be the most salient.
What Modernism and post-modernism gave us, where literature is
concerned, is the sense that these relationships, between the human
mind and the Otherness of nature, are silly, adolescent, frivolous. The
problem is that most human consciousness is, in and of itself, silly,
adolescent, and frivolous, and to stay within the charmed circle of the
human (or, to get even more narrow, the charmed circle of textuality) is
to stay a child, repeating ad infinitum that we are the center of the
universe, and that the human race should be homogenized the right way.
A homogenized human race manifests no individuals, and if there is
nothing outside the text, the cosmic egg is both cracked and unusable.
Why Keats and Shelley are older than those who followed and inverted
them is that they bring to the surface how wildly uneven both the human
race, and human consciousness, are, and that higher consciousness,
when it manifests, needs to recognize both this variability (rather than a
vaunted homogeneity) and the means to transcend it, sometimes within
the charmed circle of the human, sometimes not. The ditsy quality of
Modernism and post-modernism takes what makes Romantic poetry
superior and pretends it is the pursuit of unreal phantoms; it's just that
the human race, more than nature without us, has a problem with the
unreal and with phantom systems of government, and when
consciousness cannot attach to higher realities, it falls into a trough of
stale ironies, incomprehensible symbols, and perverse lecherous
inversions of lowliness into sublimity and cacophony into harmony.


Shelley, in Adonais, has a way or manner of referring to both John Keats,
and Keats' poetry, as flowery, or flower-like, or even just Keats-as-aflower and his texts ("melodies") as flowers as well. Shelley's most
grandiose moments, especially within the elegy Adonais, tend towards
perversity or twistedness; just as Keats' apogees lean towards the
straightforward or earnest. But the question I'd like to raise is a tangent
to Shelley's designation of Keats and all things related to Keats as
"flowery," and it has to do with a substitution of sorts: let's say what is
"flowery" in serious art or poetry could also be called "ornamental."
That is, meant to heighten sensation, especially sensations of
enjoyment/euphoria, without changing or challenging the substance of
human thought or consciousness. Does Shelley find Keats to be, in his
life and art, ornamental? Is prosody, the melodic richness of language,
merely ornamental or an ornament? As I have said before, but it bears
repeating in this context, if you eliminate Keats here, dismiss his
prosodic achievement as merely ornamental, you have (also) to take out
Bach and Beethoven. By Shelley's definition (it would seem), all music is
"flowery," ornamental. If I cannot accept this designation as more than
a half-truth, it is because what music, in poetry or in its more purified
form, does for human consciousness, as a conduit to rendering the most
heightened forms of emotion as palpably as possible, is substantial, and
adequate to evince the seriousness of the narrative-thematic levels of
literature which have more gravitas for Shelley. Little but music teaches
us how we feel, and that the importance of emotion is permanent.
So, when Keats sings to us of Psyche, his sadder but wiser girl, it is built
into his achieved aesthetic balance that what is flower-like gives us more
than half of Keats' earned gravitas, but by no means the whole thing;
while Shelley's music is adequate, but does not display the emotional
fluency or dynamism of Keats'. Then, it follows that the narrativethematic levels which predominate draw us back to his texts, and the
emotional heft of Shelley's best verse is twisted into a taste we may have
for the gnarled or ghastly (and scarred and riven). This is why, at the end
of the day, artists of consequence will have a difficult time choosing
Keats over Shelley or vice versa; they are so distinct from each other,
each the creator of his own universe or consciousness-world, that the
comparison has the quality of being apples and oranges. Shelley's
condescension, in Adonais, is one of the attitudes that is gnarled in/from
him, or twisted, or perverse; just as Keats does, in fact, make a fetish of

flowers and flower-like vistas. In a time of recession, serious students of


poetry will have to choose from day to day both what they enjoy and
what they prefer. What happened later in nineteenth century EnglandSwinburne and Tennyson taking flowery aesthetics into a realm of no
intellect/no imagination, while Victorian mystery novels got twisted,
perverse- is not of as much interest as the century's predominant
opening salvos, as the twenty-first gets underway with its own twisted
flowers and perverse ornaments, and pendulums are prepared to swing
back and forth.

I have demarcated spaces for what I call an I-Thou approach to serious


poetry, and an I-It approach. The I-Thou approach leans towards
naturalness, intimacy, and Nature as principles; while the I-It approach
prizes objectivity, distance, and a rough or harsh version of Nature. Also
under the aegis of I-Thou: what Keats calls sweetness, which usually
has to do with sexual or sexualized processes in Nature; purity, whereby
perverse impulses do not destabilize subsistence within Natures
bounds, and most impulses are wholesome or healthy; sex itself; Keats
Odal Cycle and the Cheltenham Elegies; and what John Keats (his body
of work) does as a textual signifier in general. Under the aegis of I-It:
perversity in regards to the Nature, and a tendency to dwell on the
rougher, harder aspects of Nature; less interest in sex, and more
fascination with death, and bodies as cadavers/corpses; the two poems
which I feel constitute the most incisive work of Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Adonais and Mont Blanc (which is, admittedly, and more than Adonais,
split between I-Thou and I-It); and many of my own Apparition Poems.
As per Mont Blanc into Adonais: Shelleys vision of Mont Blanc, which is
then internalized and imposed on the corpse of Keats in Adonais; that
Nature (human and otherwise) is halved between creative and
destructive elements/impulses; still leaves the door open for Shelley to
emphasize death over sex, and perversity over pleasure, to then create a
lurid palimpsest over the Odal Cycle, and to bring his attentive readers
back to the home truth of the mortality of flesh, sans what redeems
mortality for Keats the possibility of a chiasmus, always, with the
immortal in Art and Nature. So, Shelley finds a way of bullying Keats
into place once he is merely flesh.

If I had leave to quantify what is more relevant, incisive, truth consonant,


and major high art consonant between I-Thou and I-It: I give, for
reasons I will explain, I-Thou a 60/40 advantage over I-It. My reasons
have to do with philosophy: that there is an ontological sense in which it
cannot be proven that being, or being-in-itself, or (to use Kants term)
the noumena, is finite or perishable. Once a cohesive being is set into
motion within the charmed circle of existence as matter, or being-inmatter, it cannot be created or destroyed. To simply matters: where
existence is concerned, and on a profound level most do not realize
subsists: when youre in, youre in. The pulverizing perversity which
prefers corpses to sex and objectivity to intimacy I-It has in it
something eternal about finitude, ends, severance in general. There
will always be deaths following births through the cosmos, just as third
person objectivity has an interesting way of animating, via incisive
angles, different forms/manners of existence. Third person objectivity is
a kind of knife in serious art and poetry, cutting through things,
sharpening perceptions with cuts. If first person intimacy is slightly
more powerful, and in tune with the endeavors of both Romanticism and
Neo-Romanticism, it is because by consolidating the very basis of being,
in the world and out, and by showing us the ways and manners of beingin, and of matter changing, specifically matter changing forms (corpses
being static, sex being dynamic), first person (first person to second
person, to be precise) intimacy takes us to what the richest veins of our
existence are, in a way that third person objectivity cannot. First person
intimacy illuminates rather than cuts, and what it illuminates symbolizes
how our perceptions can attain at least a degree of immortality.
Adam Fieled, 2015